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Common Back Injuries and How Athletes Can Treat and Prevent Them

Posted on August 28, 2018 by Joe Fleming

BoltBack injuries are a common issue among athletes, especially those who compete at a high level.

For example, before he retired, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt had to take a significant amount of time off from his sport to deal with severe back pain. Professional golfer Tiger Woods also had to take time off as he underwent surgery to repair a damaged disc.

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to suffer from a back injury, though. Whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned pro, it’s important to know how to treat and prevent these common back injuries.

Common Back Injuries

The following are the most common types of back injuries that athletes tend to experience:

Lower Back Injuries

Many athletes struggle with lower back injuries. The following are some of the most common injuries they experience:

  • Back strains (injuries to the soft tissues — muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, etc.)

  • Spondylolysis (stress fractures in the lower lumbar spine)

  • Herniated discs (the nucleus — center of the discs of the spine — ruptures outside of the normal place)

Runners, golfers, gymnasts, and weightlifters most frequently experience lower back injuries.

Neck Injuries

Some people don’t realize this, but neck injuries are also classified as a type of back injuries — the neck is part of the spine, after all.

The most common types of neck injuries include:

  • Neck strains

  • Herniated discs

  • Burners/stingers (nerve damage)

These neck injuries are most frequently brought on by sudden trauma. Because of the nature of their sport, these injuries are very common among football players.

Upper Back Injuries

The thoracic spine (upper back) can also take a pounding while playing sports. Muscle strains and herniated discs are the most common types of upper back injuries that athletes experience. Swimmers, weightlifters, golfers, tennis players, and skiers are all prone to upper back injuries.

How to Treat Back Injuries

If you’re dealing with any of these back injuries, the following treatments can help you overcome them faster.

Heat and/or Ice

If your back injury is relatively new, hot and cold therapy ought to be one of the first treatments you turn to.

For the first couple of days after your injury, ice your back in twenty-minute increments several times throughout the day. Then, alternate between hot and cold treatments, still in twenty-minute increments. Alternating between hot and cold will help relieve inflammation and pain and improve spinal mobility.


Many people — including athletes — make the mistake of avoiding all physical activity when their back injury arises. In reality, though, regular gentle exercise can help speed up the recovery process since it promotes healthy blood flow to the affected area.

If you’re dealing with a severe acute injury, you may need to take some time off for complete rest, but minor, overuse injuries can benefit from regular movement.

Work with a physical therapist to learn the proper movements you should be doing to promote healing.


Wearing a back brace can be beneficial in the early stages of your injury. It gives you a chance to improve your posture and avoid putting additional strain on the muscles in the back. Eventually, you’ll need the brace less frequently and will be able to work on strengthening your back and core muscles to better support your spine.

Spinal Manipulation

Many athletes swear by spinal manipulation, which involves having a chiropractor manually adjust your spine to realign it.

Anti-Inflammatory and/or Prescription Medications

In the short-term, anti-inflammatory drugs and prescription painkillers can be helpful for providing relief from back pain. But, for long-term pain, it’s important to work on getting to the root cause to prevent dependence on these drugs.

How to Prevent Future Injuries

It’s important to know how to treat back injuries, but it’s even more important to know how to prevent them from happening in the first place. Some of the best things athletes can do to avoid common back injuries include:

  • Strengthen the core to better support the spine

  • Cross-train with low-impact activities like swimming and walking to promote healing and work on alignment

  • Warm up properly before every practice and game

  • Wear proper equipment when playing contact sports like football or hockey

  • Work on your posture off the field (back braces are great for this, too)

If you find yourself getting injured frequently, it’s also important to talk to your doctor about whether or not you should continue playing your sport of choice. Sometimes, frequent injuries are a message from the body that you need to take a break and let it fully heal.

Final Thoughts

Back injuries are serious, and athletes of all levels can experience these common injuries. Keep this treatment and prevention information in mind so you’re prepared no matter what comes your way.

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